Cities Unto Themselves

By Wayne D. Moore | Aug 15, 2003
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Hospitality and gaming facilities, with their large crowds often sharing one property, need quick and reliable fire detection systems with the ability to pinpoint the area in alarm to allow selective and orderly evacuation.

The fire alarm system in these facilities must also account for sleeping hotel guests and guests focused on gambling. And occupants must deal with all of the distractions present in a casino operating 24 hours a day.

In November of 1980, 85 people died and 700 were injured in the fire that occurred in the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Later that year, a fire in the Stouffer’s Inn in New York killed 26 and in February 1981, eight people lost their lives in the Las Vegas Hilton fire. In December of 1986, the Dupont Plaza and Casino fire claimed 96. Each of these fires demonstrated a need for more comprehensive fire suppression and detection and communications systems.

As a result of the lessons learned from these fires, the fire protection community developed strict codes for high-rise hospitality and gaming facilities and required these facilities to retrofit automatic sprinklers, smoke detection and automatic fire alarm/voice communications systems. The issues that led to the multiple fatalities in these fires were addressed, such as unlocking stairwell doors during an alarm condition and ensuring communications with all guests throughout the facilities.

Since the time these fires occurred, fire alarm systems have become more sophisticated and complicated. In addition to providing smoke detection and alarm functions, these new fire alarm systems now interface with smoke control, security, elevator control and door unlocking systems.

Because hospitality/gaming facilities are under constant expansion and renovation, the system equipment chosen for the installation must be flexible and the installation must be planned with future expansions in mind. Given the large number of people in these buildings, often complete cities unto themselves, the fire alarm system must be reliable and false-alarm free. People can be seriously injured during the evacuation process, so it is imperative that they only evacuate in the event of a real fire emergency.

The contractor must understand the importance of coordinating their fire alarm system installation with the other trades, especially the mechanical contractor installing the smoke control systems and the security specialist for the facility. The technicians charged with the installation must be journeymen with a strong background in fire alarm system installations and must be assigned to the project through its completion. These technicians must also be familiar with the equipment to be installed.

The contractor must thoroughly understand the operation matrix for the fire alarm system and plan the installation to ensure there will be no delays bringing the fire alarm system online. And of course the contractor must be familiar with, and comply with National Fire Alarm Code requirements for fire alarm/voice communications systems. For voice/alarm communications systems, he or she must be familiar particularly with the survivability requirements. According to the Code, survivable fire alarm systems shall be designed and installed such that attack by fire in an evacuation-signaling zone will not impair the control and operation of the notification appliances outside the evacuation-signaling zone. This requires that all circuits necessary for the operation of the notification appliances are protected until they enter the evacuation-signaling zone that they serve.

Due to the abnormal size of these facilities, most designers choose to network the systems serving specific parts of the facility. Assurance that the networked systems will function during a fire condition is important.

The use of addressable or addressable analog fire alarm systems has enhanced the flexibility and information provided to ensure a reliable and rapid response to a fire condition. These systems are generally easier to install but the software associated with these systems can become a problem. The many different operations that must occur during an alarm condition—such as initiating smoke control systems, unlocking doors, closing doors, recalling elevators, annunciating the alarm location, providing the occupants notification in accordance with Code requirements and calling the fire department—are all accomplished using software routines. This is why clear and early communication between the contractor and the equipment supplier become more important with these sophisticated systems.

Coordination with the local fire department to ensure a complete understanding of the system operation as well as the inter-operation of all interfaced systems is imperative to the success of the installation. And of course providing ongoing maintenance will help assure the system’s stability and reliability throughout the life of the system.

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a co-editor of the current National Fire Alarm Code Handbook. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office.


About The Author

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, was a principal member and chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24, NFPA 909 and NFPA 914. He is president of the Fire Protection Alliance in Jamestown, R.I. Reach him at [email protected]

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